The culture: Boudica, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
The cheap seats: as always, £5 standing Yard tickets (it really is the only way to experience a Globe show)
24th June 2016. It was the day after the EU referendum and I was watching Richard III at the Almeida. I cried a lot – because Ralph Fiennes was amazing, because the women were portrayed so brilliantly, and because of one heartbreaking moment in particular: when Richmond says “England hath long been mad, and scarr’d herself” in Act 5 Scene 5.
I was still in shock at that point. I’d tweeted on the day of the vote, using the trending hashtag #iVoted, some S Club 7 lyrics: “We’ve got to all stick together”. I was feeling pretty pleased with the jubilant pun I had lined up for the next day, results day: “Never ever forget that I’ve got EU and EU’ve got me”. Alas, it was never to be tweeted. We voted to leave and my shock gradually turned from confusion, to anger, to confusion again and, finally, to ambivalence.
Richard III spoke to me that night because it really seemed to me that a small majority of my compatriots were scarring our country, prioritising Little England over the greater good. No piece of theatre has touched my Brexit nerve so much since until I saw Tristan Bernays’ new play, Boudica, at the Globe last weekend.
As a native of the land the play called Camulodunum (modern-day Colchester), the story of Boudica (or Boadicea as she was known when I first studied the warrior queen at school) is, for me, a familiar one. So what interested me wasn’t the brave and fiery queen (Gina McKee) uniting with neighbouring leaders to defeat the brutal and controlling
European Roman powers-that-be and regain control of her land (although the fight scenes were impressively fierce). No. It was Boudica’s second daughter Alonna (Joan Iyiola) who really spoke to me as I stood blood-spattered in the Yard. The dialogue was often clunky and archaic but Alonna’s line “this isle will crack” cut through the noise of the camp Roman political talk and the harsh British battle-cries – a simple statement that expressed such heartbreak.
Alonna and her elder sister Blodwynn (Natalie Simpson) spent years in the forest, training under the guidance of their fearless mother and Andraste, an Icenian war goddess. When the sisters are raped by Roman soldiers they become even more passionate about their mother’s cause. But while Blodwynn turns her thoughts to revenge and wants nothing more than the blood of her enemies, Alonna is more hesitant to plunge her weapon deep in the chests of the Romans, instead imploring the English tribes to think about what kind of Britain they are fighting for. Is freedom from Rome that is won by spilling blood on English soil, killing children and raping their mothers, really freedom at all?
Bernays’ Brexit-Boudica was a timely reminder that while we negotiate our messy severance from the European Union it’s vital that we soothe the emerging cracks in our isle before they turn to deep, irreversible scars. An imperfect but empowering night at the Globe (and my last trip of the year).
(Also seen this week – Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Bergman double bill After the Rehearsal / Persona, directed by Ivo van Hove at the Barbican (£10 Young Barbican ticket with a great central view). Honestly I couldn’t make enough sense of it to write a full post. van Hove trademarks that I used to love (the music, the bare sets) are beginning to get tired. The unnecessary nudity (always women) feels nasty. There were a few moments I liked, particularly in Persona, where Jan Versweyveld’s set opened out and broke down into this magnificent, water-covered scene, but, overall, I found it overlong and underwhelming)